Navigating the New Technology of Walt Disney World
If you are new to planning a Walt Disney World trip or have not been since before the pandemic, there is a bit of a new learning curve in visiting the most magical place on earth. There is new tech, new terms, and new fees that you need to be aware of – the days of showing up and having a spontaneous trip to visit the mouse are a memory of the past (at least for now). That being said, with a bit of work ahead of time and setting (or resetting) expectations, you are still able to have a great trip. This post is going to break down all you need to know for your next Walt Disney World vacation.
My Disney Experience
My Disney Experience is the online platform where you will be planning your entire Disney vacation. This is where all your travel plans will be made and viewable including park tickets, hotel reservations, dining reservations, park reservations, and more. See all those bubbles at the bottom of the photo above? The goal is to fill those all in ahead of your Disney trip.
Your My Disney Experience “To Do List”
Before your trip and when you start your planning, you have some homework to do. Let’s break down your My Disney Experience “to do list” when you commit to a Disney World vacation.
Family and Friends
First thing to know is that every member of your travel group is going to need a My Disney Experience Account. Make every adult a separate account – yes, every adult. Kids can be managed and linked through an adult account but kids will also need to have a unique identifier as well. This is so when you make reservations for dining, parks, and rides that each individual person has it assigned to them and it links to their park pass and their app.
Link accounts by being friends – this is critical to do this ahead of time. Make sure all the people in your party are “friends” so that you can successfully link all the accounts together. You can do this by selecting “Add a Guest” and filling out the information, including the email address that person used to set up their account. The person then gets an email address asking to be friends and when they confirm through the email link, the connection is made and the person is added to your Family and Friends list.
If you are staying on property, this is probably the first thing you booked confirming your Disney World vacation. If the reservation to your Disney hotel is not linked, do so by clicking “Link a Reservation” and entering your hotel stay confirmation code. Then your reservation is linked to your My Disney Experience. If you are staying off property, this bubble will remain blank for you.
Need help deciding where to stay on property? Check out my Walt Disney World: Where to Stay post.
In the past you typically did not have to purchase tickets far in advance (especially since they are non-refundable) but since you need a park reservation (the next topic), you are going to want to purchase your tickets to guarantee the park days you want.
Make sure to check the park reservation system ahead of buying tickets to make sure the days you are going there are ample park reservation availability (more on that in the next section). When you are purchasing the tickets, there will be prompts and a link to check the park reservation system or you can look here. You will also have to make the decision if you want to do one park pass a day or more than one park a day (park hopper pass).
If you are buying tickets for a group, assign them to the email address used to make their individual accounts so they are linked. By setting up the Family and Friends first, it makes this step much easier by just assigning the purchased tickets to the people on your list.
The reason you need to order your park tickets more in advance than before is due to the park reservation system. As of the writing of this post, in order to visit the park you must have a park reservation and you only have access to this once you purchase your ticket.
It is wise to book park reservations as soon as you purchase your tickets – you can always change the park you want to visit later. The risk is having the park you wish to visit reach capacity and then you cannot visit that park. Typically, during the week and not around holidays it is not competitive to get the park you want but on weekends and around holidays it can be tricky.
If you have a park hopper, you only need to make a park reservation for the first park you wish to visit. You must visit that park before hopping to another park. If a park is at capacity, there is a risk you may not be able to hop to that park. As of writing this post, you are eligible to park hop after 2PM.
Let’s take a closer look at the park reservation system.
There are three categories of guests that park reservation spaces are available for – theme park ticket holders (purchased tickets but not staying on property), select resort hotels (purchased tickets and staying on property), and annual pass holders. It is not super important for this type of trip planning but the differences in having these three categories leads to how many park reservations you can hold at a time if you go multiple times a year or are a local.
In the theme park availability calendar, there are colors that appear on each day which change based on availability – green means all parks have availability, yellow means one or more parks do not have availability, and gray means all parks are at capacity.
In the screenshots below, Dec 28 has limited availability with only Animal Kingdom open for park reservations, Dec 30 and 31 are gray indicating all the parks are full those days. January is almost completely open with green days indicating all parks are available with only Jan 3 being at capacity with Hollywood Studios at the time of this post. These are subject to change at any time, including having reservation slots open back up that were previously at capacity, so if you did not get what you are looking for, keep checking. The farther ahead you make your reservations, the more likely you are to have no issues booking at every park
And finally, we have dining. Unlike in the past where the dining reservation bookings opened 180 days in advance, the system is now open only 60 days ahead of the start of your trip. Recently dining reservations have been difficult to come by so I would recommend having a list of those reservations you would like as well as having a few on the bench in case you can’t get your top tier spots. You can always continue to check as the trip approaches as reservations do open up but it is better to have a few in hand at the 60 day mark than struggle in the following weeks to find something that works for your trip. Remember, there are a ton of great dining options in Walt Disney World!
Once you have completed all your My Disney Experience “to do list” tasks, make sure that all the reservations and confirmations are linked to your account as well as all the people traveling in your party. Under each bubble there is an option to “Link a Reservation” which allows you to enter the reservation or confirmation number. However, if you book everything with your Friends and Family set up correctly, these linkings should happen automatically. From experience, I will say having one person do all the booking makes things a whole lot easier.
My Disney Experience App
It is now time to download the My Disney Experience App on your phone. This app will take all the information from the website and have it at the palm of your hands for when you are actually on your vacation. While it is not the most user friendly app, it is all we have to work with.
The app is your key to the world and is used for:
- Park tickets
- Online check-in to you resort if staying on property
- Room key if staying on property
- Mobile Food Ordering for quicker service dining options
- PhotoPass pictures
- Making ride bookings and purchases (more on that in the in the Genie, Genie +, Lightning Lane, Individual Lightning Lane post)
- And more!
Let’s go through the app and orient to the different features.
- Here is the landing page when you open the app and log in. It may contain different information based on what you have planned but what is most important is the icon bar on the bottom. The house icon indicates the home screen.
- The pin icon displays the map of Walt Disney World where you can find lots of helpful information including park map, wait times of attractions, dining locations and more. You also have the option of displaying this map as a list in the top right corner. This is a good spot to spend time to get to know the features in this icon.
- The middle icon is the plus symbol and that allows you to add things to our plans. When you click on it, a menu displays various options such as checking dining availability, Mobile Food Ordering at a quick service station, and more.
- The magnifying glass icon is the search bar where you can look for something specific.
- And finally the three bars on the most right hand side of the icon bar which is where you will spend most of your time – let’s dive into that one a bit more.
- We spent most of the time looking at the Tip Board which displays wait times of the attractions as well as dining options, including the earliest order window for Mobile Food Orders, available dining reservations and if sit down restaurants are accepting walk-up lists. This is also where you book Genie +, Lightning Lane, Individual Lightning Lane attractions. I have more on this entire view in the Genie, Genie +, Lightning Lane, Individual Lightning Lane post.
- You can view your tickets and passes here.
- Disney MagicMobile is how to display your park pass as a shortcut on your phone (think ApplePay) – we found this to be a benefit so go ahead and follow the prompts to set up. Having quick access to your park ticket instead of fumbling through the app was a good bonus.
- You can also Mobile Food Order from quick service locations, see resort hotel information, access park hours as well as PhotoPass photos from this screen.
- Scroll all the way down and you will find a list of a few more options:
- Under My Profile, scroll down to Payment Method – you are going to want to have a debit or credit card set up to your app in order to make in app purchases such as Mobile Food Orders or ride purchases (more on that in the Genie, Genie +, Lightning Lane, Individual Lightning Lane post).
- You can also verify your Family and Friends list in the My Profile tab – make sure everyone is all there!
Genie, Genie +, Lightning Lane, Individual Lightning Lane
Ok, what on earth is Genie, Genie +, Lightning Lane, Individual Lightning Lane? Remember that awesome FastPass system? Well, it is gone and has been replaced with the complicated Genie, Genie +, Lightning Lane, Individual Lightning Lane system.
- Genie is the free version of the program. It works by having you selecting the rides you wish to go on and the “Genie” putting your requests into an algorithm. In return you are supposed to get an itinerary that tells you when to ride what rides based on data that predicts ride wait times throughout the day.
- Genie + is the closest equivalent to legacy FastPass system but it comes at a price of $15 a person per day of use. It does work for park hopping which is a plus but it is subject to availability that day – just because you spent the money does not guarantee you will get on a certain ride as slots are limited. Unlike Genie, you have the leg work of selecting rides throughout the day in which you are given a return window to enter the Lighting Lane to ride the attraction. You can also only ride each ride once using Genie + and the Lighting Lane – if you want to ride it again you have to wait in the standby line.
- Lightning Lane is the name of the FastPass lanes. When you purchase Genie + you are purchasing access to the Lightning Lanes for those attractions.
- To further complicate things, there is also Individual Lightning Lanes. Outside of Genie and Genie +, you can purchase Individual Lightning Lane for select rides as well. This is reserved for the most popular two attractions in each park and you pay per ride per person. This is NOT included in Genie + and is an additional fee if you purchased Genie +. Note that if you are park hopping, you can only purchase two individual lighting lanes a day so choose wisely.
Because this is so complex, I made a separate post that includes how to use each of these, what booking looks like, and my review if it is worth the expense – read the Genie, Genie +, Lightning Lane, Individual Lightning Lane post. Luckily, these bookings cannot be done until the day of your park day so no need to worry too much about this ahead of your trip.
Phew! I hope you were able to keep up with all these changes. It is a lot to take in but if you do the steps a little at a time it is not as overwhelming. I hope this blog post serves as a resource and I will update it as things change. One thing is for sure – a portable charger is going to be your best friend. Even the newest phones will be no match for the amount of phone usage you will need for visiting Walt Disney World.
Overall, we still had a magical time. While it was not as spontaneous as we typically travel when visiting Disney World, navigating the new technology did not ruin or sour the trip. Please reach out if you have any questions or would like help with your Disney World trip!